Billed as “the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” the Calgary Stampede officially launches on Friday morning with its big parade featuring co-marshals, Jann Arden and Paul Brandt.
The singer-songwriting pair were chosen due to this year’s “Year of Music” theme. Starting at 9 a.m. some 4,000 participants, 750 horses and 40 floats will be winding their way through downtown Calgary (in the area between 6th and 3rd Streets S.E. and between 7th and 5th Avenues S.E).
Residents are looking to party — it’s been a difficult couple of years in the oilpatch including this year’s massive wildfire in Fort McMurray that temporarily shut down the region and oilsands production.
Calgary’s unemployment rate has soared in 18 months from 4.6 per cent in January 2015 to more than 8 per cent since the spring.
The Stampede organization had to cut jobs last year after the province slashed its operating budget.
“The Stampede has been a gathering place for more than 100 years. We have weathered tough economic times and will continue to be a place and time of year where people can celebrate…Calgarians and Albertans are known for their resiliency and spirit,” the Calgary Stampede’s Jennifer Booth told Yahoo Canada News.
“When we talk about the Stampede Spirit, it extends well past Stampede Park — it encompasses the pancake breakfasts all over the city, Stampede BBQ for communities and organizations, and the spirit that drives people to trade their suit and tie for jeans, boots and a hat!”
The 10-day rodeo and fairground extravaganza, which began in 1912, could spell a major boost for local businesses. A reminder to newbies: businesses and groups all over the city hold pancake breakfasts for free every morning. According to Stampede statistics, hundreds of thousands pancakes are served at community breakfasts each year.
"There’s absolutely no question that Stampede is hugely important to our overall business…it's Christmas in July,” Stuart Allan from Calgary’s Bottlescrew Bill’s Pub, told The Canadian Press.
Booth, the Stampede’s community and public relations expect about 1.1/ 1.2million visitors but hope to top 2012 when attendance hit an all-time high of nearly a million and a half.
For those attending the Stampede, here’s an overview of what to expect:
Rodeo: Daily starting at 1:15 p.m. in Stampede Park, six main events — ladies barrel racing, bareback riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc and bull riding — are featured. It is considered the world’s “richest” rodeo with $2 million in total up for grabs for the victors in the events.
Grandstand show: Chuckwagon races are run just prior to the big show for each of the nine nights, beginning at 7:45 p.m. Some 36 drivers, supported by their outriders and 216 horses compete for a total of $1.1 million in prizes. Right after each race, the grandstand show begins with plenty of song and dance numbers, acrobatics and finishing off with the kind of fireworks usually saved up for New Year’s Eve.
The Midway: Every day from 11 a.m. to midnight. Some of the new attractions include the Peking Acrobats who will perform three times a day in the Big Four Building, and on the midway in the Dog Bowl will be the Canine Stars from Colorado who will do six shows daily. Also new is the Adventure Park, which features a climbing wall, axe-throwing and some paintball fun. And right by the Saddledome steps, a high-dive act will be entertaining onlookers four times each day. You might also want to try one of the new games: the Locked Room in which you are thrown into an old-time western jail and given 10 minutes to figure out who framed you for robbery, where the real culprits are hiding and to find the dynamite that will blast you out.
Food: What’s a Stampede without mini-donuts? Besides that traditional staple, of which about two million(!) are ingested every year, some of the new midway noshes include: Butter Chicken Fries, Deep Fried Oreo Milkshake, Teriyaki Chicken Perogies, Venison Hot Dog and the Poutine Corn Dog. There’s much more to try, most of it deep-fried, full of fat or sticky-sweet. Bring some Rolaids and Alka Seltzer. Or leave your arteries at home.
All in all it is a lot of fun...some of it silly and some of it pretty intense. Those cowboys really do have a rough ride and give us a tremendous show. So grab your cowboy hat and visit the Calgary Stampede and help the local folks recover from the trauma and huge personal and business losses created by the Fort McMurray fires.